Team USA had a bit of a rude awakening Sunday, getting all it could handle against a dogged Turkey squad before pulling away in the second half and winning, 98-77. After a less than optimal performance, how will the USA respond against New Zealand on Tuesday?
The final score of Sunday's contest doesn't properly illustrate how close the game was for the majority of the evening. At halftime, Turkey led by five points, 40-35. After the third quarter, Team USA held a narrow six-point lead, 66-60. But then in the fourth quarter, the United States exploded, outscoring Turkey 32-17 and pulling away for good.
As CBS Sports and Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis posited, the gulf between the United States and the rest of the world isn't nearly as great when some of the best American players are sitting at home:
If the best players in the NBA aren't on the roster then Team USA is vulnerable against the top international teams. Plain and simple.— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) August 31, 2014
New Zealand awaits Tuesday. The Tall Blacks dropped their opener against Turkey by three points and followed that up with a 13-point defeat to the Dominican Republic. The first loss really stung, as New Zealand threw away a potential win in the fourth quarter.
"We outplayed them, out-rebounded them, but the fact we didn't finish the game is going to stick with us for a long time after the tournament," said head coach Nenad Vucinic, per Brenton Vannisselroy of The New Zealand Herald. "We will try to erase it right now."
The Tall Blacks are the only team in Group C without a win through the first two rounds of games, so they're teetering on the brink. With its back against a wall, New Zealand could be very dangerous.
When: Tuesday, Sept. 2, at 11:30 a.m. ET
Where: Bizkaia Arena, Bilbao, Spain
TV Info: ESPN
Live Stream: Watch ESPN
Preview and Prediction
Team USA's early sluggishness against Turkey isn't all that uncommon for a team that's on paper head and shoulders better than most of the competition.
Every great team in the past has had a moment when its vulnerability was laid bare. Either that great team responds and rebounds, or it is exposed as overrated.
The close call against Turkey should ensure that the USA doesn't take New Zealand lightly, which is terrible news for the Tall Blacks.
The biggest problem for New Zealand is the lack of an established scorer. Corey Webster scored 22 against Turkey but followed up that performance with seven points on 3-of-11 shooting against the Dominican Republic. Webster tends to run hot or cold, as New Zealand basketball analyst Niall Anderson pointed out:
Corey Webster's irrational confidence is rational confidence now that he's an efficient scorer. Fills it up— Niall Anderson (@NiallGunner) August 30, 2014
Webster is a product of the system around him, as New Zealand can often be extremely inefficient on the offensive end. In its two games at the World Cup, the team has shot a combined 16-of-59 from three-point range. Webster and Kirk Penney are the two biggest culprits, together shooting 7-of-30 from downtown.
Team USA's occasional defensive issues may not even come into play given how often New Zealand shoots itself in the foot with poor offensive possessions. If the Tall Blacks continue to be reliant on the three-pointer, they'll play right into the hands of the USA, who are lethal in transition.
The United States is much worse when the pace of the game is slower and it must utilize a half-court offense. The Associated Press' Brian Mahoney felt that the Turkey game illustrated this problem:
USA looking ordinary on both ends in the halfcourt. Not style of game they want to play and can see a little frustration in having to.— Brian Mahoney (@briancmahoney) August 31, 2014
Missed three-pointers tend to lead to long rebounds. Grabbing those long rebounds would allow Team USA to speed up the pace of the game and catch New Zealand off-guard on the fast break.
What should also terrify the Tall Blacks is Anthony Davis. He's averaging 18 points and five rebounds through the United States' first two World Cup games. Few players have looked more impressive for Team USA during the World Cup and early exhibitions.
His teammates only need to throw the ball within a 10-foot radius of the basket, and he can rise up to throw down the alley-oop. NBA on ESPN shared a picture of "The Brow" in full flight:
Davis is such a hard player to defend because he's so big yet so athletic. Rarely do you see somebody approaching seven feet tall running the floor like Davis does. Team USA will look to exploit this matchup advantage early and often.
Simply put, USA has better players across the board, and following Sunday's hard-fought win against Turkey, the team shouldn't take anything for granted. The United States will cruise against New Zealand.
Final Score: United States 95, New Zealand 72